Quebec Votes·Blog

5 things you didn't know about Philippe Couillard

CBC's Salimah Shivji joins the Quebec Liberal leader on his campaign bus, to talk beards and books.

Behind the scenes with the Quebec Liberal leader

Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard refuses to peruse the morning newspapers on the campaign trail, but he does make time to read for pleasure. His current choice: Le mythe de Napoléon au Canada français by Serge Joyal. (Harold Fortin)

We've heard a lot about rookie Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard over the years.

He's 56, a former university professor and a trained brain surgeon. Couillard served as Quebec's health minister for five years in Jean Charest's government.

He has also dropped a few personal details in campaign speeches: he used to play hockey (defence) and his wife calls him "Bear".

Philippe Couillard takes his first ever "selfie" in a one on one chat with CBC reporter Salimah Shivji. (Philippe Couillard)

But what is the leader really like? And what is he doing to make it through this long election campaign? I joined him on his campaign bus for a few minutes to find out. 

1. He's into music.

The Liberal leader has an extensive and diverse playlist on his iPad, everything ranging from opera and classical to rock and reggae – even liturgical music by a 12th century mystic nun who had visions. Couillard often sings along to his favourites, such as this classic reggae tune:

Philippe Couillard sings along to his favourite tune: Desmond Dekker's Israelites.

And here's what Couillard plays to get pumped up for a rally: 

Hint: it starts and ends with Led Zeppelin

2. He's not into light reading. 

I asked Couillard if he had time for some light reading during the gruelling campaign. 

His answer: "I don't do light reading, I'm afraid." 

He refuses to peruse the morning newspapers on the campaign trail — which helped him get through the campaign — but he does make time to read for pleasure.

His current choice: Le mythe de Napoléon au Canada français by Serge JoyalCouillard told me he had just polished off a history of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

Philippe Couillard says before he was the leader of the Quebec Liberal Party, he was often mistaken for Gil Grissom, a character from the TV crime drama CSI. (CBS, Robert Voets/AP)

3. He is a red wine lover, but only drinks orange juice and water on the campaign trail. And campaign or not, he goes to bed by 8:30 or 9 p.m. but wakes up very early. Training, he says, from his days in the operating room. 

4. His hands are cold-resistant. 

Over the campaign, I've noticed that Couillard does not wear gloves while making announcements outdoors  despite the frigid March temperatures.

I asked him if there were studies that showed a politician in gloves is not to be trusted. He laughed in surprise and said that he knew of none.

He says when he was young, he used to play hockey outside without gloves and all the neighbourhood kids would marvel at how warm his hands stayed.

Couillard says he only gets cold ears and feet.

5. He's proud of his beard.

He has trimmed it for the campaign, but Couillard wears his beard proudly, despite some suggesting beards and politics don't mix.

In fact, Couillard is convinced facial hair is back in fashion. I asked him for proof. He told me that before he ran for Liberal leader, he was approached numerous times by women asking for his autograph, thinking he was the (bearded) actor who played Gil Grissom on the popular TV show CSI.


Salimah Shivji


Salimah Shivji is CBC's India correspondent, based in Mumbai. She has been a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau and has covered everything from climate change to corruption across Canada.